The Meaning of Christmas in Federal Prison

Christmas is a special day, although different while in a Federal Prison.

thiixsvotfMany of us celebrate Christmas as a time of year to acknowledge the birth of Christ. We also are joined with our families and friends, decorated trees, sparkling lights and beautifully wrapped gifts to exchange on Christmas morning. Roasted turkey for dinner, cozy blankets, crackling fireplace, and movies.

Towns are jammed packed with activities, parades, Santa Clauses, and Christmas wishes for the young and the old.

As a parent, I still enjoyed unpacking the Christmas tree, singing off key to Christmas music, and wrestling with the string of lights that were literally thrown into the box from the previous year. I still felt the same excitement I had as a young child.

Is Christmas exciting because of the gifts under the tree, or the bright lights in the windows, the personal cards you receive in the mail? Is it the turkey dinner with family and friends, or the snow man you build in the front yard? What’s the purpose of hanging stockings? People are happy and cheerful as they shout “Merry Christmas” to those they pass on the street, is this the meaning of Christmas?

For many, Christmas is a time of sorrow. Not having extra money to buy gifts for their children and loved ones. Enjoying a roasted turkey is only a wish and not a reality. Many are saddened when they cannot be with the ones they love.

Knowing I would be unable to spend Christmas with my children and family, I discovered other ways to be with them. No I did not escape!
You will not find grouchy holiday drivers, (grouchy women, yes), experience road rage, or must maneuver for a parking space. I had no need for gift receipts because I would not be need to return anything. You do understand, we don’t go to the mall in prison!

There are a few perks in prison during the holiday season. Can you say, marshmallow fluff? The fluff comes in a huge container and the women flock to the fluff. Marshmallow fluff has a new meaning for me.

My roommate, aka “Bunkie” was anxiously awaiting her family to send her extra money so she could buy the marshmallow fluff. When I came home, (did I really say home?) When I got back to the cube, she was crying, sobbing, on the concrete floor sobbing. Something horrible must’ve happened. Not knowing what to do, I asked, “are you okay”? (I know that was a stupid question obviously, she wasn’t okay) what do you do in these kinds of situations? Then she said, “I’m so sad, it’s all I wanted was some marshmallow fluff”. Wow, I thought, that’s what she’s crying about? That marshmallow fluff must be awfully tasty.

I couldn’t send marshmallow fluff, what could I do? After observing other women knitting and crocheting beautiful scarves and knit caps, I decided to try. Honestly, I had no interest in knitting or crocheting, but I would be able to send them a “one of a kind” memento, from prison. Their own personal souvenir! Now I really feel like a prisoner.

Prison offered a small room which we refer to as “shopping”. The room contained items such as chips, cookies, instant coffee, dry milk, tuna fish and peanut butter. There were also some feminine products including, shampoo, soap, hairbrush, and hair clips. We had assigned days for shopping, and were permitted to go one time per week.

After several weeks, I could have red yarn, knitting needles and a crochet hook. It took about a month to gather the right supplies, mostly because the “store” was not well-stocked.

Could you imagine how upset you would be if you made four trips to purchase red yarn, knitting needles and a crochet hook? You would probably want to speak to the store manager, but I preferred to avoid the guards.

Ladies taught me how to knit and crochet, and now I had a purpose. Spending hours in my bunk, propped up against the cinderblock wall, and crochet. Visualizing Christmas morning, when my daughter would open her scarf. I imagined her pulling it out of the packing envelope, and saying, “Did mom make this”? “Does she expect me to wear this”? “This is pretty ugly”!

To send the gifts home, I would need to purchase special envelopes and the required amount of postage. This was no easy task, and may take several trips to the “store”.  On “mail out day” we were permitted to stand in line, in hopes the guard would approve the items to be mailed. It was a victorious moment for me, when the guard accepted the gifts. I couldn’t wait for Christmas morning.

In the years past it was easy to go to the store and buy purses, shirts, sweaters, perfume and sporting equipment. Christmas was about balancing the credit cards, trying to shop during the off-peak hours, and massaging my back after sitting on the floor for hours wrapping.

My Christmas spent in prison, was about going without peanut butter to purchase yarn. Patiently waiting for the needed items to make something to send home. Learning how to do something new, even though I had no interest. The anticipation of my kids and sister opening their imperfect, scratchy scarves and knit caps, gave me a feeling of joy! It was love.

Christmas in prison was different. Ladies had to accept what they had, making the best out of their circumstances, sitting on the picnic tables together knitting and crocheting, showing one another their work, making mistakes and starting over. It’s all you could do was laugh, because there was plenty of time to get it right. Personally, I thought the mistakes gave the scarves character. My scarves had plenty of character. (I made myself a “life blanket”, you ought to see the mistakes in that one)

This year I’m not making scarves or knit caps. But I do plan to do something special, which does not include a credit card, gift receipts, jammed parking lots or keeping up with the “Jones’s”. Sorry kids!

John Ortberg, writes in his book titled “The ME I want to BE”,
                    Jesus does not come to rearrange the outside of our life the way we want.  He comes to rearrange the inside of our life the way God wants.

I’m glad Jesus came,


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